reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 1 December
Writer Andrew Pollard and director Martin Berry, abetted by designer Richard Foxton, have worked one of the now-fashionable variations into this year’s pantomime. For most of the action, the setting is the somewhat run-down funfair operated by Frank Furter (Richard Emerson).
He’s a loud-mouthed, tartan-suited leftover from the glory days of rock’n’roll. His daughter Jill (Elizabeth Rowe) has just returned from “finishing school” – and is fly enough to know a financial sinking ship when it passes under her nose. Still clinging on (just) is ice-cream vendor Dotty Trott (John Barr).
Her amiable but not very bright or co-ordinated son Jack (James William-Pattison) has made a pet of their one remaining cow Pat (Claire Greenway). Their main trouble is that Pat refuses to be milked by either Trott. Then there’s the thoroughly nasty Hurricane (Taylor Rettke) who blows in demanding rent arrears.
A well-established Hornchurch tradition is to use actors who are also accomplished instrumentalists. Hollie Cassie is the on-stage musical director and also plays Fortuna, trapped in her booth until Jack’s innate kindness releases her. The second half takes everyone to Cloudland, reigned over by Celia Cruwys-Finnigan and Sheldon Greenland.
The latter is also the giant Big Dipper in an effective combination of monster puppet and actor. Barr is an experienced Dame, taking a wig malfunction in his-her stride. There are enough of the traditional gags, including a slop scene and the bench routine, to keep the story grounded in pantomime convention.
Three and a half-star rating.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 6 January. Performance dates and times vary, check the box office: 01708 443 333 or www.queens-theatre.co.uk for details.
reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 28 November
This yea’s pantomime season kicks off for East Anglia in Ipswich with a new Peter Rowe rock’n’roll show. So far, so familiar. However, over the past few years Rowe has begun using stories which – though familiar one – are not usually thought of as part of the traditional; pantomime canon.
So the Arthurian The Sword in the Stone and last year’s Sinbad the Sailor are now succeeded by Red Riding Hood, no longer a little girl but a feisty teenager called Maisy Merry (Lucy Wells). Familiar elements are there – a contrasted pair of immortals to set the plot spinning, a hissable double villain(Rob Falconer), his thoroughly incompetent henchmen Adam Longstaff and Daniel Carter Hope), a dashing prince in search of true love (Max Runham) and the Dame (Simon Nock).
This being the New Wolsey Theatre, the score by musical director Ben Goddard is packed full of rock’n’roll numbers. The mischievous puppet animals by Entify which are audience favourites make more appearance this year; Prince Florizel has a whole farmyard as well as a fox and a squirrel as his Privy Council. Barney George’s set is deceptively simple with clever use of gauzes and sliding flats as well as grave-traps and a central mobile platform.
All the cast take turns as instrumentalists behind one of these gauzes which shrouds the back half of the stage. Most of the action takes place on the forestage – when it doesn’t spill out into the auditorium. Elizabeth Rowe’s spring fairy Cherry Blossom contrasts well with James Haggie’s icicle-fingered Jack Frost and Red Riding Hood has Little Miss Moffet and Goldilocks (Lana Walker) and Bo Peep (Isobel Bates) to support her.
Singing honours go to Falconer when the dastardly Sir Jasper metamorphoses into his werewolf alter-ego. Nock is of the school of slightly raucous Dames with a distinctly masculine edge. Haggie doubles as the Prince’s aide, rewarded by his choice of village maidens by the end. Wells and Runham make a thoroughly engaging central couple; Rowe allows them much more personality than is sometimes the case with more traditional pantomime scripts.
Four star rating.
Red Riding Hood runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 27 January. Performance dates and times vary. Check with the theatre’s website www.wolseytheatre.co.uk for availability.
(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 29 November)
Trust Peter Rowe and the New Wolsey Theatre to come up with a variation on the traditional pantomime. Sinbad is a story which has somehow slipped from the 21st century repertoire, though it was popular in the 19th. Here Rowe has given it his theatre’s regular rock’n’roll treatment – with some unusual twists.
As one expects nowadays, the heroine is no languishing miss; Pricess Pearl (Daniella Piper) knows exactly what (and who) she wants – and that certainly doesn’t include her father the Caliph (Daniel Carter Hope)’s selection of wealthy magician Sinistro (Dan de Cruz) as her husband. Her put-upon handmaiden Jade (Lucy Wells) is also a lass with a mind of her own.
The trouble for both girls is that sailors are slippery creatures, none more so than Sinbad himself (Steve Rushton) and his bosun (Adam Langstaff). Running away to sea might have seemed an easy option on dry land, but once sails are set… Also on board are Sinbad’s mother Donna Souvlakia (Graham Hent) – no prizes for guessing just which foodstuffs this raucous Dame purveys!
Particularly interesting is the second comic role – Tinbad the Tailor, an erudite nod by Rowe and the excellent Rob Falconer in the direction of James Joyce. He comes close to stealing the whole show with his sly wooing of think-I-can-do-better Donna. Our story-teller is, of course, Scheherezade (Elizabeth Rowe), an engaging dea ex machina.
All three girls sing well, as does Rushton and (when he is finally allowed to let rip) de Cruz. Darragh O’leary’s choreography is of the step, shuffle, turn school, though the eyelash-fluttering dromendary (well, it makes a change from a cow) manages some nifty footwork. Puppets, as New Wolsey audiences now expect, pop up from grave-traps and gaps in the flats; the designer is Barney George.
Sinbad runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 28 January. Check the website
wolseytheatre.co.uk for performance date and time details.